More must be done to ensure schools can reopen and stay open - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has welcomed the partial reopening of schools today, but has called on the Minister to take action now to ensure that these schools can stay open in a safe and sustainable manner.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“Despite the best efforts of teachers, parents and staff, we know that many children have unfortunately lost out and fallen behind while schools have been closed. It is extremely important that kids can get back to school over the course of the next few weeks.
“However, this return needs to be safe and it must be sustainable - schools must reopen and stay open.
“Rapid testing will be a crucial element of this. Sinn Féin has been calling for serial testing for school staff since August, it is essential to ensure that Covid cases are quickly identified and swiftly dealt with.
"I note that there are reports that the expert group headed up by Professor Mark Ferguson is likely to approve use of antigen testing for schools. If NPHET is satisfied with the standard of this, it can contribute to rapid and mass testing in schools, which will be vitally important. I look forward to more detail and developments.
“There has been no clear guidance from the Minister on how children who are high risk or have high risk family members and must stay at home can continue with their education. This is particularly important for sixth year students who are looking to receive calculated grades from their teachers but cannot return to school buildings.
“The Minister must provide clear guidance to schools on how to facilitate the learning of these families, they cannot be left behind.
“I would also urge the Minister to not forget the thousand of students with additional needs in the mainstream, particularly those in secondary schools, who are still waiting to hear when they will return to school.
"These are the children who have missed out the most since school buildings have been closed, and to leave them out of school until after the Easter break would be absolutely shameful.
“I have engaged with many students, parents and staff representatives over the last number of weeks. It is clear that in-class teaching is unmatched for students, and there is a shared desire to return to school.
“However, the Minister must ensure certain mitigating measures are put in place so that this return is as safe as possible.
“Today we reiterate our call on the Minister, to urgently provide rapid testing for all in the school community, serial testing for staff, significant improvements in school tracing, medical grade masks for all staff performing intimate caring roles, clear guidance on remote working for high risk staff and a system for supporting schools where large numbers of staff are absent due to the virus.
“We are also calling on the Minister for up to date, clear guidance to be issued to schools on ventilation and school transport, and for the Minister to engage with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee to see if school staff can be considered for higher priority to receive the vaccine.
“We know that parents, teachers and staff want to do the right thing, but they need peace of mind from the Minister on these issues and many more. I will continue to work constructively with the Minister to make sure the return to school is safe and sustainable."